Article | Research in Organizational Behavior | 2010

An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms

by Robin J. Ely and Debra E. Meyerson

Abstract

This case study of two offshore oil platforms illustrates how an organizational initiative designed to enhance safety and effectiveness created a culture that unintentionally released men from societal imperatives for "manly" behavior, prompting them to let go of masculine-image concerns and to behave instead in counter-stereotypical ways. Rather than proving how tough, proficient, and cool-headed they were, as was typical of men in other dangerous workplaces, platform workers readily acknowledged their physical limitations, publicly admitted their mistakes, and openly attended to their own and others' feelings. More importantly, platform workers did not replace a conventional image of masculinity with an unconventional one and then set out to prove the new image-revealing mistakes strategically, for example, or competing in displays of sensitivity. Instead, the goal of proving one's masculine credentials, conventional or otherwise, appeared to no longer hold sway in men's workplace interactions. Building on West and Zimmerman's (1987) now classic articulation of gender as "the product of social doings," we describe this organizationally induced behavior as "undoing" gender. We use this case, together with secondary case data drawn from 10 published field studies of men doing dangerous work, to induce a model of how organizational cultures equip men to "do" and "undo" gender at work.

Keywords: Safety; Goals and Objectives; Behavior; Organizational Culture; Performance Effectiveness; Gender Characteristics; Emotions;

Citation:

Ely, Robin J., and Debra E. Meyerson. "An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms." Research in Organizational Behavior 30 (2010): 3–34.